Home Rule amendment aimed at campaign finance delayed, council looks at additional reporting

MORGANTOWN — Consideration of a  fourth amendment to Morgantown’s Home Rule plan was delayed after questions were raised by the state’s Municipal Home Rule Board.

The Home Rule Pilot Program was implemented in 2007 to allow participating cities to operate outside state code in addressing specific issues. Morgantown was part of a second wave of cities to be added to the program in 2014.

In November, Morgantown City Council approved a fourth amendment to its Home Rule plan that would allow the city to: Add additional reporting requirements for city elections; designate its existing board of zoning appeals to oversee any future subdivision and land development laws.

The city aimed to have the amendment on the Municipal Home Rule Board’s January agenda, but the board voiced a concern about the city’s election reporting request, specifically that it was just too broadly worded.

“So this plan amendment is revised to reflect that the request for authority  is simply to add one more report for council candidates for the city’s election,” City Attorney Ryan Simonton explained during Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting.

This proposal was initially brought forward by Councilor Ryan Wallace, who noted the purpose has always been to require one additional campaign finance report just prior to the city council election.

Wallace explained that under current reporting mandates, candidates can essentially hide campaign donations until after voters go to the polls.

“Some of the campaign finance was not reported until after the votes were in — actually, a lot of the dollars were not reported until after, and I thought we should improve transparency,” Wallace said of the previous council election.

“Your supporters, financial supporters, tend to indicate your stances on certain opinions and your affiliations, if nothing else,” Wallace said. “It’s not a perfect solution, but it is headed in the right direction.”

Simonton said the revised request would likely go before the Municipal Home Rule Board during its April meeting. He explained that if passed, it would not be in effect for the upcoming city council election, also in  April.

Sticking with campaign finance, council will also consider an ordinance mandating a financial disclosure statement of the city’s elected officials and candidates.

Such statements are already required of state officials, and have been implemented on the municipal level in Charleston and Fairmont.

“It requires data such as businesses with which the individual is affiliated, a disclosure of gifts and a disclosure of loans,” Simonton said. “Obviously, the point of that is to identify the various financial interests that may be involved with the candidate or the officer.”

The report would be filed with the West Virginia Ethics Commission, which would then provide it to the city clerk’s office to be kept on file.

Simonton said the report would be due annually on Feb. 1 for everyone who meets the definition of an elected official. Anyone who is a candidate for office would need to file a report within 10 days of becoming a candidate for office.

If council chooses, Simonton said he believes this law could apply to the upcoming council election.

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